The League of Women Voters said Ohio's low voter turnout is proof that the state was unprepared for a mostly vote-by-mail primary election.
“There are a lot of individuals who were not served by this complicated system,” says League of Women Voters of Ohio executive director Jen Miller.
Unofficial results from the Ohio Secretary of State’s office show 1.76 million ballots were cast in the primary, representing about 23% of all registered voters. That’s down sharply from 3.3 million ballots cast in the 2016 primary, but only slightly less than the 1.97 million ballots cast in 2012, the last time the nation saw an incumbent president running for reelection.
The League of Women Voters had unsuccessfully backed a legal challenge aimed at extending Ohio’s primary election amid the coronavirus pandemic. Shortly after Gov. Mike DeWine moved to cancel in-person voting on March 17, the Ohio General Assembly voted to have nearly all Ohioans vote by mail and set a deadline for absentee ballots to be postmarked by April 27.
In response, the organization filed a federal lawsuit in late March that sought to extend the voter registration deadline for the primary, require boards of elections to mail postage-paid ballots to all registered voters who hadn’t already voted, and to schedule a new end to the primary further down the road.
“We never will know how many people were just shut out of this process,” Miller says.
Secretary of State Frank LaRose contends his office did what it could given the circumstances. He’s also praised the work of local boards of elections that had to race to change to a virus-extended primary.
"Ohio, we rose to the occasion," LaRose said in a video address early Wednesday morning. "We came together, even in the midst of this global pandemic, to make sure we could run a free and fair election."
When it comes to November, LaRose has been pushing state lawmakers to create an online absentee ballot request system, instead of relying on the current system, by which voters must print out and submit a ballot request by mail.
Miller says the state needs to go even farther.
“We know that we’re going to have COVID-19, so let’s send ballots out to everyone," Miller says. "Let’s plan on extra early voting. There’s so much more we need to do, for both the August special election and the November general election.”